Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sex and the City - Part 1

I loved Sex and the City.  I think I saw all the reruns not once, but twice.  I saw the movie too.  Not quite as good as the series, but still in the spirit. 

I envy the closeness of Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha.  I think every woman can see themselves, and/or relate to at least one of the characters in the show, or secretly wish they were more like (insert name of choice here)  Me? before I got married, I was Carrie - yet secretly wishing I had the cojones of Samantha.  My best friend was Samantha - a free spirited ballet dancer trying to make it big in Manhattan, and having a string of relationships that were satisfying, but not in the enduring sense, more in the biblical sense if you catch my drift.... Unwilling to settle for one man, she preferred many.  She had great sarcasm like Sam, and always had a comeback waiting if one was needed. 

My daughter actually got me interested in SATC when the reruns came to TBS - We DVR'd every episode, and then some.  We laughed with the girls, rooted for Aiden, and had a love/hate relationship with Big.  We yelled at the TV, hoping to knock some sense into Carrie, and wished fervently that Charlotte would just follow her heart instead of her dream.  We wanted to smack Miranda when she broke up with Steve.  This show also got me hooked on Cosmos.  No, no no...I don't drink in excess.  Ask my kids.  But I do enjoy a Cosmopolitan every once in a while.

Now, the history differs, but the one constant is the drink was invented in the 1970s.  The official recipe of the IBA (International Bartender's Association) is as follows:

4.0 cl Vodka Citron
1.5 cl Cointreau
1.5 cl Fresh Lime juice
3.0 cl Cranberry juice

Preparation Add all ingredients into cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake well and double strain into large cocktail glass. Garnish with lime wheel.

Notes: The drink should be a frothy bright pink colour = centiliter - It's metric - something every other country in the world uses but us...think about it.  To simplify things, just substitute "parts" for "centiliter" and you can make the 'part' as much or as little as you want.

I thought a drink like this HAD to be around longer than the 1970s, so I pulled out my trusty "Esquire's Handbook for Hosts", 1949 edition, which was a hand-me-down from my parents. 

Well, actually, it was more of a save from the trash, but I have fond memories of that book.  The cover had cariacatures of famous actors and actresses, and there were a lot of cartoons in the book which I liked to read as a kid, some of which were probably not that appropriate, but at my age, I don't think I "got" them...

"It's Pop! And he's holding up a man on each arm again!"

There were also card games, party games, and recipes for appetizers, some main courses, but mostly tons of alcoholic beverages.  I was really surprised that there were hardly any vodka recipes.  Most were for gin, scotch, bourbon, and mixed drinks.  There was a punch recipe from that book I made once for a bridal shower that got everyone, even the self proclaimed one-in-every-bunch that says "I never drink, and if I do, I never drink enough to get tipsy" - tipsy. This is a punch with a punch.  Make sure you have designated drivers, because you cannot taste the alcohol, and this punch is...well...alcohol and fizzy stuff...'nuff said.  It's absolute yummy, and looks beautiful!  Miranda, Carrie, Samantha, and Charlotte (especially Charlotte) would go wild for it...

It first appeared in 1933, where, I don't know...but it has more history than the Cosmo,'s a Pulitzer Prize winning author that "authored" this concoction.  It serves a lot...depending on how much your drinking buddies can put away...

Sinclair Lewis' Punch and if you don't know who Sinclair Lewis is...shame on you!

2/3 cup Lime or Lemon juice (I use 1/3 cup of both)
3/4 lb  of powdered sugar
1 cup cognac
1 cup peach brandy
1/2 cup Jamaican rum
1 quart + 2 cups of carbonated water (selzter)
lemon/lime slices for garnish

1.  Mix the liquor and sugar in a punch bowl until the sugar is dissolved.  Slowly add in the seltzer, then add a generous amount of ice.  Garnish with lemon and lime slices, serve to guests, and watch the hilarity ensue.  I will experiment with the proportions to give you a single serving for "SATC part 2" - I'm sure it will be a reeeeallly tedious task, and not much fun at all *snorts*.  Actually, it's quite a sacrifice on my part, tasting all ratios of this concoction until I get it absolutely perfect *hic* but nothin' izzzzzz mor' impor'nt than makin' it eashy, right?....right?.....RRRRRIIIIGGGHHHT????!!!!! *runs off to the liquor store to buy some peach brandy for "experimentation" purposes only

The girls would be proud :)
P.S. Honestly Tina, I was thinking about doing a blog on Cosmos for my next entry, since I'm kinda tired of putting everyday recipes up...I was starting it today when I read your blog - eep! :-)

Oh...and SATC part 2 WILL have Cosmo recipes in it - promise! :-D

Monday, April 19, 2010

Meatloaf - it's what's for dinner...ummm no it's not!

Yes, Tina, I know you despise meatloaf, and for a very good reason - the same reason Meg hates strawberry let's not call this meatloaf, shall we?  Let's call it..."It ain't a loaf, but it's Meat" - How's that? or "MeatMosh" Hmm...I like that better..."Meatmosh"

Now that we have the title out of the way - I know everyone has their favorite "Meatmosh" recipe.  They also know what goes with "Meatmosh".  For me, it was always baked potatoes, a vegetable, and applesauce, cos that's how my mom made it - for my hubby, it was gravy, mashed potatoes, and a vegetable.  In fact, our first argument in our married life came from his query when I put my "Meatmosh" on the table "Where's the gravy?"  He then escalated it into nuclear proportions by announcing "This isn't like my mother's.  You should get HER recipe and learn to make it right"  Word of advice to any husbands, boyfriends, SOs, whatevers...Never, ever, EVER...I repeat...NEVER say your wife/gf's cooking is not up to par with your mother's...even if it isn't.  Find something good to say about it, even if it tastes like a cross between an old gym sneaker and rotten eggs...I'm sure you can find something like "Honey, the presentation ROCKS, but I am STUFFED from lunch at work today - How about brownbaggin me the leftovers tomorrow, k?" and give her a kiss/hug for her efforts.  She doesn't need to know that you'll throw it in the trash.  By finding the POSITIVE, it will POSITIVELY ensure you a nice, warm spot in a big fluffy bed with your mate, rather than a cold, uncomfortable couch that is not QUITE long enough, kapish?.

I experimented with a lot of recipes, until I found one that actually works for me - it's consistently good every time, unlike before when I'd usually just throw whatever I had in the kitchen into the meat in various quantities, so the quality wasn't always consistent.  I think my family is happier, and that makes me happy, because I can actually SERVE the leftovers, and they'll eat them.  It's easy, you literally just dump everything in a bowl and get down n' dirty mooshing it with your hands, pop it in a loaf pan, and bake it for an hour.

Mom's Meatmosh  - serves 4-6 (printable recipe is HERE)

1.5 pounds of meatloaf mix (if you eat veal) if not, then 3/4 pound each ground pork and beef  -You can really interchange any meat you'd like - turkey, chicken, beef, pork, veal, or any combination thereof - doesn't matter.

1 6 oz. can of Durkee's fried onions -For a twist, try the cheddar fried onions...I would, but my family would disown me if I ever put cheese in a meatloaf - believe me, I've tried!
1 package of ranch dressing mix I use one I get at the natural market - the ones in the grocery store (*kaffHIDDENVALLEYkaff*) have MSG in them.
1 cup of bread crumbs, or...stuffing mix if you have any left over taking up space in your cabinets Stuffing mix gives the meat a nice flavor - put a bit more Steak Seasoning in if you don't have stuffing, or add some fresh ground pepper and garlic.  You can never put in too much garlic! :-D
2 tsp. Montreal Steak Seasoning by McCormick - I love this stuff - I use it in everything from meat to eggs to baked potatoes to veggies.
1 egg
1/4 cup ketchup, 1/4 cup BBQ sauce - If you don't like the BBQ flavor, simply substitute Ketchup.
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup milk if needed *

1. Preheat Oven to 375.

2. Mix ingredients, and form into a loaf.
*add milk last, and don't use it all if the meat seems to be getting too moist.*

3. Put in a pan and bake for an hour.
If you want, serve it with gravy, or just plain.  Make mashed or baked, doesn't matter.  Serve it with ketchup or BBQ sauce, makes no never mind to me - Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 your poison

Humans are a selfish lot.  I think it may have something to do with Maslow's hierarchy of needs, but nursing school was more years ago than I care to share, since I am getting to the time of life where a woman winces inwardly when asked her age, and may fudge it down by a few years if she can pull it off.  Most of us go through life trying to fight these selfish urges.  We donate to charity, we sacrifice for the good of others, we try to live our lives the "right" way.  Being human, that doesn't always work.  However, if we can be unselfish where it counts, and a little selfish where it doesn't, I think it's a job well done.  I try to live my life by practicing tolerance, looking for the good in everyone (even the wench that cut me off on the Thruway) and accepting people for who they are without trying to change them (my husband is the only exception to the latter - but that is because he's forgotten most of the good teaching he received from HIS mother as a child) 

I do have two indulgences.  Two things that I will not "compromise" in any way, shape or form.  One is chocolate.  I must have Salazon Chocolate.  I tried the others, Salazon shines.  Don't get me started, or I will wax poetic and this whole blog post will be a love story for the brand.  I have some previous posts where I drooled over Salazon, read those, then go out and buy a bar or two.  Or three.  Ok ok, round it out, make it four, then it will last you for a while.  The good thing about Salazon, is it's so good you really can't pig out on it, because you want to savor the flavor.  So you take a little piece, and like the hamster that stuffs its little cheeks full of fruity goodness and then runs to its little house to enjoy the bounty because he doesn't want to share, you find a comfy chair and a good book away from your family (because if you walk into the room where they are congregated watching TV or doing whatever, you know your chocolate bar will be gone before you can say "Hey! that's MY chocolate!" the minute they get a whiff - I know it's happened to me)...or...if you are outside walking a mountain trail on a crisp spring morning, you break a square off and save the rest for when you reach the summit, making sure your fellow hikers either have their own bar, or, if they were silly enough not to bring one and decided instead on that "goop" crap, you surreptitiously sneak a bit from your day pack when they are otherwise occupied with tripping over a tree root on the trail.  Either way it's an indulgence that enhances your experience rather than overwhelms it.  If I want a piece of chocolate, it has to be Salazon.  It can't be Hershey's, Nestles, Theo's, Vsoges, or some other bar that claims to be chocolate.  It can't be the store brand that is on sale for 99 cents this week only, because I won't buy it.  I'll pay the extra for Salazon because it's my indulgence.

The other indulgence I have is for coffee.  I'm not quite sure how that started, or how my palate developed to where I reeeeaaallly can't stand bad coffee.  You know, the kind that tastes bitter and smells sort of metallicy and acidy.  I've run the gamut with coffee.  I started out drinking it very light and sweet, and gradually went to black.  When you drink black coffee, you can TELL A BAD COFFEE much easier then when you camoflauge it with cream and sugar.  Just sayin'.  I drank my coffee black for years, until I found out I had GERD,  so I switched back to cream, but no sugar, and decaffeinated.  I drank it that way for a while until Starbucks became the fotm, then I sort of got used to adding a bit of syrup to my coffee.  Now I'm at lightly sweet with regular cream.  I guess that would be a "regular with half a sugar" at the Dunkin' Donuts Drive Through.  The small "quintessential New England" town in CT where we once lived for 5 years had a population of about 15000 people and TEN COFFEE SHOPS.  Count em'. TEN.  Coffee was a big thing in Madison, CT.  Now, they weren't all "Coffee Shops".  I'm including any place where any Madisonian went to get their morning cuppa Joe.  That included the mom n' pop breakfast shop called "the diner" by locals,(probably not to confuse it with the myriad of COFFEE SHOPS in town,  but it was really a storefront - what makes a place a "diner" as opposed to a "coffee shop" or "restaurant"?, the Dunkin' Donuts, and various other eateries, as well as the two main Coffee Shops in town, The Madison Beanery  and Willoughby's, both of which are still there 10 years later, which is a testament to how much New Englanders like their coffee. 

I was a Beanery aficianado, Willoughby's beans were alway a bit bitter IMO, but it's a matter of taste.  I guess I just answered my own question as to where I refined my coffee taste buds. 

One day I was surfing the web and came across The Coffee Fool.  Their claim drew me in.  I must confess, at first I thought they were crazy.
If you're a tad adventurous like us, you look for stuff that will change your life for the better. But, in a world with millions of products, great things are not always so easy to find. Thankfully you found our ad while you were doing something else (omg that line just made me go "HUH?" when I first read it)and decided to check out a potential new coffee experience for yourself.

"Wow".  I thought to myself.  They are either deluded or confident -maybe that's where their name came from - "Coffee Fool", which could mean either a fool for coffee, or they're foolish enough to claim their product is heads above the rest.  I perused the flavors and was drawn in by their "Coconut Dreams".  The description reads "Only for those who would be quite at home, shipwrecked on a paradise island with enough coconut trees to last a lifetime"They must know about my secret fantasy.

When I lived in Madison, CT and went to the Beanery, I would always get their coconut coffee when they had it.  OMG...if you have not tried coconut + coffee, you are missing out, I kid you not.  Amazing nutty flavor with a hint of the tropics. Since the Beanery doesn't sell their beans online,   I decided to try a bag of Coffee Fool's  "Coconut Dreams" - what do I have to lose but a few bucks?  Well, I lost more than a few bucks, because one bag, and I was hopelessly hooked.  Just like Salazon ruined ANY other kind of chocolate for me, Coffee Fool ruined any other kinda bean.  They are the best.  Everything they claim is true, and zomg, their coffee flavors are the bomb.  My favorite is "Snoodle-Doodle" which has a hint of cinnamon, coconut, hazelnut in it, three of my favorite coffee-ish things.  Everything they claim is true.  I have never had better coffee in my life, and believe me, I've had a LOT of different coffee.  It's fresh, aromatic, flavorful, NEVER bitter, acidy, or metallic.  Drinking any coffee by Coffee Fool makes me smile, just like eating Salazon chocolate.

Yes, it's a tad pricey, but not overpriced.  The quality is amazing, the coffee definitely worth it, so I will induge myself.  It's not like I indulge myself with jewelry, plastic surgery, clothes,'s just two simple things - chocolate and coffee - I will not compromise quality, and I am willing to pay a bit more for something I like, because I am worth it.

What are your indulgences?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Easter Sunday...the aftermath

After the main Easter meal, inevitably you are left with...leftovers. Unless of course, you are the type that goes out to eat for Easter Sunday - then you are probably left with a doggie bag, and if you are reading this, you are outta luck because this blog entry is about what to do with the leftovers.

The ham was massive.  10.5 pounds for just five people, three of which don't eat all that much.  However, we've made quite a dent in the leftovers - sandwiches, pasta (ham and leek with bowties), snacks.  There is a good amount of meat left, and time is running out.  I was supposed to drop some off to my son's batting coach, but communication with a 15 year old is not always timely, and he told me about three days after he had batting lessons when I was musing aloud about that huge hunk of ham still taking up space in my fridge.  Teenagers.

Luckily, the weather turned colder.  We had a streak of 90 degree plus weather for about a week, and no one even wants to come NEAR a bowl of nice hot soup when it's 91 degrees outside.  A thunderstorm brought much cooler temperatures more on par for the MD area, so soup was back on the menu.

I love split pea soup.  However, my husband refuses to eat peas, or even split pea soup, because of the name.  You get it? pea = pee.  Doesn't matter it's not spelled the same, doesn't matter that peas are green, and you would never pee green ANYTHING, and if you did it would most likely be a cause for consternation, but all his life he has assiduously avoided anything with the "pea" word.  I usually just tell him they aren't really "peas"  (which is sort of a half truth - they *are* peas, but not like the kind you get from your garden - split peas came originally from India),  they are "legumes".  Legumes are your beans, lentils, and yes...peas LOL.  They are loaded with fiber and nutrients and are a good substitute if you want something filling, but meatless.

I digress yet again.  Lucky I'm not like this in the kitchen, or dinner would never get on the table.  I don't understand how I can be so organized in some areas, and so easily sidetracked in others.  As a cook and a nurse, I have *no* problem keeping on task, but with housework I am usually hopelessly distracted.  I start out vacuuming the dining room rug for example, then I noticed that the credenza needs dusting, so I go into the kitchen to get a dust rag.  When I am in the kitchen, I notice there is a ring on the counter from where Ben made a chocolate shake, and was a bit off on his calcuations of ice cream/milk/glass.  So, I get a sponge and wipe it up.  When I finish, I start back into the dining room, only to notice while glancing in the family room that Ben's hoodie is on the floor, so I go in and pick it up.  While I am in there, I notice the pillow to the green chair is also on the floor, so I pick that up too.  Then upon straightening up, I notice a dust bunny in the hallway.  To the garage to get the dustpan/broom.  I sweep up the dust bunny, then notice the pile of dirty clothes accumulating on the bathroom floor since Meg isn't around to yell at Ben - "BEN!!!!! GET YOUR CLOTHES OFF THE FREAKIN' FLOOR SO I CAN TAKE A SHOWER!!!!!!" So I go pick them up because I don't want to get behind in the laundry.  I think you're beginning to get the picture.  However, in the kitchen I am a whirlwind of efficiency.  I clean up as I go, I wipe counters when I'm done.  Pots are cleaned before I even sit down to the meal.  Dammit, I am good.  Hubby swears one of the main reasons he married me was because I could coordinate all aspects of meal preparation and have the dinner all done at the same time.  This was after we went to dinner at a friend's house, and had french fries, then about 10 minutes later hamburgers, followed by the buns five minutes later and the corn 20 minutes after that.

Back to lentils!  If you haven't tried them, please do.  They are yummy, especially when adequately seasoned, and are very easy to make.  Lentil Soup is one of those things you can make and leave simmering on the stove for literally hours, and it's a perfect way to use up all that Easter Ham.  I know everyone has their favorite recipe, but playing around with my old recipe, I came up with a new, improved variation that has a little kick, thanks to red pepper flakes, and all my favorite onions!  Do NOT be intimidated by the list of ingredients - you basically just throw them all into the same pot and forget about it for an hour or so.  How much easier can it be than that?

Lentil Soup with Ham (printable recipe HERE) serves 6-8

8 cups of water
2 generous teaspoons of Better than Bouillon, (vegetable or chicken flavor) or a powdered instant broth - if you had a boneless ham, simply substitute chicken or vegetable broth for the water, and omit the Better than Bouillon. (Please, please invest in some Better than Bouillon.  It has a wonderful, home made flavor, and lacks the metallic taste that the powdered yukky "fake" instant broths loaded with MSG have)

1/2 pound of green lentils (I use organic french lentils from natural market)
1 large onion chopped

1 shallot, chopped - (If you don't know what shallots are - they are like an onion, but about the same size as a head of garlic - their flavor is sort of a cross between a sweet onion and garlic - and you don't need much to give your dish a lovely flavor - besides, imagine going through the produce aisle muttering to yourself "lets see..shallots, shallots..." and have people look at you and think "wow, they must know how to cook cos' they are looking for shallots!"
2 leeks, rinsed and split lengthwise, and chopped white and light green portions
3 large cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or ground red pepper flakes)(This was enough to give the soup a little "kick" if you want a punt, increase the amount of red pepper flakes)
2 good sized carrots, chopped
3 stalks of celery, chopped
1 tbs fresh thyme leaves, (or 1 teaspoon of dried)
1 teaspoon cumin
1 bay leaf

1-2 tbs tomato paste (Consider buying a tube of tomato paste - it lasts forever, and you don't waste a whole can if you only need a tablespoon or two- You can usually find it with the Italian specialties, or in the aisle where they have the tomato sauce and pasta)
1 tbs red wine or red wine vinegar (don't substitute white vinegar - white wine or cider is OK and if you don't have any wine OR vinegar, just omit it)
About 1/4 cup of EVOO
Leftover Easter Ham (about 2-3 cups more or less to your preference)
Leftover Easter Ham bone
Parmesean or romano cheese for topping

1. Cover the lentils with boiling water, and let them sit while you prepare the veggies.

2. Put the EVOO in a large pot (The one you're going to cook the soup in) heat it, then add the leeks, shallot, onions, celery, carrots, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, cumin, and cook on a medium to low heat until the veggies are tender. If they start to brown, turn the heat down a bit. The carrots can still be a bit hard, but the oniony veggies should be tender and translucent.

3. Drain the lentils.

4. Add 2 quarts of water to the pot with the veggies, along with the Better than Bouillon, one bay leaf, the tomato paste, the ham bone,and the lentils. Cover and simmer for at least an hour or until the lentils are tender. Adjust the seasonings. You should get into the habit of tasting and seasoning your food before you serve it.  The cooking process can alter the flavors.  If you're not sure, underseason at the beginning.  You can always add more seasoning, but if you had too heavy of a hand at the onset, it may be difficult if not impossible to adjust.  You can leave it cooking on the stove for longer if you want, as many hours as you need. Remove the ham bone and puree the soup with a hand blender to desired thickness. (You need to do this BEFORE adding in the ham chunks - or else you'll get quasi pureed meat along with the lentils, and honestly, that's kind of yukky.  Trust me, I speak from experience) Add the ham chunks, and wine (or wine vinegar), cook for about 20 minutes more, and serve.. Top with grated romano or parmesean cheese.
Serve with a nice crusty bread and a glass of wine.  Add a salad if you wish, and be prepared to go back for seconds.  If the compliments come, always say "It was nothing" because obviously it tastes like something  you slaved over at a hot stove for HOURS on, and you may be able to get some clean up help, or even a "you've been working hard and cooking all week - let's go out for a change".  Unfortunately, this no longer works in my family, since they are used to good cooking.  Dang.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

French Toast Casserole - yes it CAN be good!

I love French Toast.  Unfortunately, my family doesn't share the same love...well, they kind of do, but hubby likes his dry and flattened with a spatula, where I like mine full of egg and puffy.  Kids could take it or leave it.  And no one but me is happy when I say "Monte Cristo sandwiches tonight for dinner!" I usually get an eye roll or a "oh." or even better a "They're too eggy".

I find making French Toast tedious.  Beat the egg, add the milk, cinnamon, sugar.  Mix again.  Heat up a pan, dip the bread, make a mess on your counter, fry it up in the pan, rinse and repeat.  Clean counter, clean bowl, clean pan.  Ugh.  Too much cleaning.

When I discovered French toast bakes, I was ecstatic.  Clean counters, no mess, no frying, make ahead of time, cook the next morning.  What more could I want?  Unfortunately, the recipes fell far short of my expectations.  Even Paula Deen's fabu French Toast Casserole with Praline Topping.  They were too tasteless, too eggy, too dry, too sweet, too...something.  I tried a lot of recipes.  Just ask my family.  But "determination" is my middle name - I may be a procrastinator at times, I may be easily distracted at times, and I may even stop what I'm doing to daydream, but dammit - once I set my mind to something, 99.9% of the times it WILL happen, because I am determined.  So, off I go perusing recipes.  AGAIN.  But with each "failure" comes knowledge.  One catches my eye for a French Toast Bake with blueberries and almonds - now THIS has possibilities!  Except...whoa. EIGHT eggs, and EIGHT eggwhites for only 1 baguette approximately 18 inches long and weighing only 8 ounces?  geeze...and...2 cups (which is...2 x 8 ounces - do you see a trend here?) of milk.  That's like having some bread thrown into your eggs for breakfast. 

I always thought French Toast should be a happy medium.  I think life should be a happy medium too, but it doesn't always happen that way, although I try to keep it that way.  You shouldn't make the bread sopping wet, but it shouldn't be dry either.  A quick dip to wet the bread, then into the hot pan to get puffy and golden.  You need a dense bread to make good french toast.  Wonder bread just doesn't cut it - waaaaay too much air.  The egg just soaks into it so quickly you wind up with crisp edges and a soggy middle.  This casserole had WAY too much liquid, and not enough seasonings.  Easily remedied by moi. (Sorry for the paucity of pix - I really didn't think the recipe would turn out as good as it did, due to my "luck" in the past with French Toast casseroles/bakes, so I sort of took the pictures "after the fact".  Besides, I don't think there is really anything you could learn from looking at a bowl of beaten egg, milk, and maple syrup.)

I got my ingredients together, and made some major changes.  Then I baked it in the oven, took it out, and it was GOOOOOOOOOOD!.  Zomg, it was good.  It was good hot, it was good at room temperature, it was good cold.  Two thumbs up from the entire family, plus a few friends that came over.  A definite winner.
Here is what you need for:

*note* Please, please PLEASE get a decent bread - it makes all the difference. This means: No Wonder-type light fluffy bread, or any of that crappy "french" bread a grocery store sells, trying to convince you it's the real thing when it's's just Wonder bread in a beret. Look for a dense, crusty bread - a ciabatta would work, a semolina, a baguette from any place that knows how to cook something other than Wonder Bread (no offense, but if you live in Utah, you're probably out of luck - I didn't see one piece of decent bread the whole time my parents lived there - every loaf was underdone, pasty, and tasteless.) You are looking for a loaf that is chewy and dense.

1 baguette (or french or italian bread loaf) cubed - (I did this the night before, so the bread would be a bit stale-I had some left over after I put it in the pan- make bread crumbs with the leftovers!)
6 large eggs
1/2 cup half and half (If you want to be decadent, use ALL half and half, i.e. 1 cup.  If you want to watch your waistline, use ALL 2% - your choice)
1/2 cup milk of your choice (I use 2%)
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/3 cup pure maple syrup (This doesn't mean "Aunt Jemima's" or "Log Cabin" - these don't have a drop of maple syrup in them)
1 pint blueberries
1/2 cup sliced almonds
3 Tbs. brown sugar
2 tbs. butter

1.  Spray a 9 x 13" baking pan with cooking spray.  Put the bread cubes in the bottom of the pan in a single layer.

2.  Combine the eggs, milk, half and half, vanilla, cinnamon, maple syrup.  You can use a whisk or a mixer, your choice.  Pour this over the bread, making sure to get all the bits.  Cover with saran wrap and refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.   In the morning before you take the saran wrap off, you can press the bread down lightly just in case some pieces didn't get fully soaked.  Then remove the saran wrap.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3.  Sprinkle the blueberries evenly over the top of the bread, then the almonds, then the sugar.  Lastly, take the 2 tbs of butter, and dot small pieces over the top (I used little pieces I broke off with my fingers - I am thinking about trying a streusel- like topping next time)

4.  Put in the oven and bake for 45 minutes.  It should be set and lightly browned.  Remove and serve with maple syrup.  It tastes good hot, warm, or cold.

Now...possible variations:

-thinly sliced apple, chopped walnuts, and a streusal topping made with 1/4 cup of flour, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 tsp cinnamon, 6 tbs butter processed in food processer to a coarse crumb.

-raspberries and almonds - same topping - or blackberries, or...a combination of all three.

-peaches and pecans with the same streusal topping as the apples.

See what you can come up with!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Just a trifle...delicious!'s the day before Easter, but I made easter dinner today.  Long story made short - logistically, it worked out better for all involved.

As I was making the menu, I was looking for a light dessert - People always tend to stuff their faces around the holidays, and I was making Ham, potatoes, carrots, asparagus, rolls.  A light dessert was definitely in order.  One from Tyler Florence caught my eye - it was for a Lemon Curd Berry Trifle.  There was only a few problems:  1) I don't have a trifle bowl, nor do I plan on buying one in the near future.  2) I was never much of a "Trifle" aficianado.  I liked the idea of lemons and berries though I didn't like the idea of making lemon curd from scratch, because I find it to be a royal PIA.  Perhaps it's because I really prefer cooking over baking, I dunno...but how to shortcut this so that it's still good, and fits in with my cooking philosophy of fresh?  Before you start saying ewwww curd??!!...sounds disgusting! it's not.  It's actually a type of custard made with eggs, sugar, and lemons, cooked...and it's very sweet, and very lemony.  The thing is, you can buy some very good lemon curd at your local supermarket in the jam/jelly aisle. *edited - could pick some homemade stuff up at Breezy Willow Farm -yum!*  Beats standing over a hot stove beating eggs yolks, sugar, and lemon into oblivion. (sorry Tyler).  HAH.  There was still the problem of the trifle bowl, and my distaste for trifle. 

My experiences with trifles in the past have usually been some sort of cake soaked/sprinkled with booze, layered with vanilla pudding (yuk - I reeeeaallly don't like vanilla pudding.  at all.  bleah) and some sort of canned pie filling, usually cherry or something along those lines.  Even the ones made with chocolate I still was not crazy about - they were, as Randy Jackson says on "American Idol"  "Just a'ight dawg".   But again, lemon and berries intrigued me, AND that the filling was mousse, not pudding, AND the booze sprinkling was optional.  And the booze sprinkled was Limoncello, and I love Limoncello in my cosmos.  In fact, I make my cosmos with vodka, Limoncello, and cranberry juice with a splash of OJ.  It's my own concoction, and I've shared it with you - but that is another blog post, along with my Lolita Martini Glasses.

I decided to make these Trifles really "trifling" and put them in little dessert glasses since I didn't have a trifle bowl.  They came out really, really REALLY good.  And they are really, really REALLY easy to make.  Tyler Florence's original recipe is Here, if you really CAN cook and somehow just stumbled upon this site by accident - If cooking a custard makes you curdle, you can print out my easy-peasy version Here
First, gather your ingredients.

1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 pint blackberries
1 pint blueberries
1 pint strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 pound cake - 12 oz (3/4 pound) cubed
12 oz. Lemon Curd
*honestly, any combination of fresh berries would work - this is just what I had on hand*
Whip up with heavy cream with the confectioner's sugar.  You should have stiff peaks.  Soft peaks look like they are going to stay, but they flop over, sort of like soft serve.  Stiff peaks stay where you put them, best way to describe it. 

Don't overbeat the heavy cream, or you will wind up with butter.  Not the end of the world, but you are making a trifle, not butter for your breakfast toast.

Next, fold the jar of lemon curd into the whipped cream.  Best way I've found to do this is with a spatula and a gentle touch.  Don't stir it in, you want to keep the volume you just spent the last few minutes coaxing out of the heavy cream.  Use an "over and under" motion until the curd and whipped cream are well combined. (ignore the shallot in the picture - I was making Easter dinner and there was a ton of food on the counter in various stages of preparation.  Folding courtesy of my daughter Meg :-)) Take the berries, toss them together in a bowl.  Now...put a few cubes of cake in the bottom of your dessert glass. 

Be inventive, and use what you have in the house.  I almost used my martini glasses, but I only had four, and needed five.  You could use pilsner glasses if you had parfait spoons.  You could also use a wine glass.  Follow the cake cubes with the mousse, then sprinkle some berries on top of the mousse.  You could even use juice glasses.

Repeat the layers once more, ending with berries as topping.  (You may have to repeat the layers more than twice depending on what type of glass you are using.)

Put them in the fridge for a couple hours so the mousse sets, then serve.  The mousse is very sweet, and very lemony, and offsets the tartness of the berries perfectly.  The plain butter pound cake also helps to tone down the sweetness of the lemon curd.

When your guests "oohh!" and "ahhh!!" over your dessert, just smile and say "Oh, it was nothing!" in a tone of voice that suggests it was something, then look coy when asked for the recipe.  Keep em' guessing :-)